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Clinic gives prospects chance to reflect on youth days

by Adam Kimelman

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin likely will be a top-five pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, which starts Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) at BB&T Center in Sunrise, home of the Florida Panthers.

He is No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the draft, and is the top-rated defenseman.

But during a clinic for area youth hockey players at Florida Panthers IceDen on Thursday, Hanifin admitted to being a bit jealous of the 54 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 who got to skate around with six of the top draft prospects.

"These kids are really lucky," he said. "I wish when I was a little kid I got to skate with some of the pros. Would have been a really cool experience."

It was Hanifin along with Erie Otters centers Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, Boston University center Jack Eichel, Kingston Frontenacs left wing Lawson Crouse and London Knights center Mitchell Marner who treated the kids to a memorable day.

"I'm happy for those little guys," Crouse said. "Couple great players out there. It's fun to get out there and have some fun with the little guys. I remember when I was in their shoes. They're lucky to have a couple top prospects out there."

For some it provided a trip back to when they were kids and got to skate around or meet some of their hockey heroes.

"I remember meeting Mario [Lemieux] when I was a little guy," McDavid said. "I would have been in peewee. ... I met Bobby [Orr, now McDavid's agent] when I was young as well, and a couple other guys. It's the beauty of hockey; they're all good guys and they're all looking to give back. It was cool to be out there and be a part of that."

The prospects got dressed in the Panthers' locker room, and one stall with a nameplate and equipment in it belonged to Florida forward Shawn Thornton, which held special meaning for Marner.

"I met Shawn Thornton," Marner said. "He had just won the [Stanley] Cup with Boston [in 2011] so I got to see him and the Cup so that was pretty fun."

Marner said he talked to as many of the kids as he could and reminded them that one day they could be in his skates.

"We're making these kids' dreams come true," he said. "We want to make sure that they know they can make it here one day and they can be in these seats. ... No matter who they are, they all have a chance to make the NHL, and that's what we tell them. They just have to work for it."

The other prospects did the same, although it became a bit awkward when the kids called them "Mr. Hanifin" and "Mr. Strome."

"A couple people did," Strome, 18, said. "I'm not too much older than them so I don't think I deserve this right now."


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